WEST TOWN — A blaze that ripped through a West Town apartment building Sunday night killed a 92-year-old great-grandfather and left at least a dozen people without homes, authorities said.
The fire was reported about 10:40 p.m. in the 1900 block of West Ohio Street, according to Officer Hector Alfaro, a police spokesman. Fire officials are still investigating the cause.
As residents learned that a blaze had started in an apartment on the second floor, "they started knocking on doors and telling people to move," said Lalo Mendoza, 19, who lived on the first floor.
But Frank Cecola, 92, didn't make it out.
Cecola was in his family's apartment at the time with their two dogs, according to his granddaughter Katrina Scimone, 38, who also lived there with her 10-month-old daughter.
Scimone was out with a friend when the fire started, and her mother was getting food for Cecola, she said. When her mother returned, smoke was coming from the home.
Scimone said she doesn't know how the fire started.
Cecola was taken to Stroger Hospital Sunday night and pronounced dead at 11:41 p.m., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. Both dogs also died in the fire.
Frank Cecola, an uncle of Admiral Theatre strip club owner Sam Cecola, used to work in admissions for the club years ago, Sam Cecola said.
"He was a very special person, and I'm very disturbed by his death," Sam Cecola said in an email.
He was close to his family, Scimone said, especially his great-granddaughter Juliana.
"He was always watching her," Scimone said through tears. "He loved her."
Scimone and her family lost nearly everything they owned.
"This is what I have," Scimone said as she pointed to the clothes she was wearing.
Mendoza, one of at least 12 people displaced from the fire, said he saw smoke billow and flames "trying to fight their way out" through the windows. The owner of the building, who is in his 60s, had to be carried to safety.
Some were able to grab a few of their belongings as they left, Mendoza said.
"I was kind of in shock," Mendoza said of what he witnessed.
Frank Cecola and his family had lived in their apartment for only a few months after moving from Maywood, Scimone said.
Scimone said she'll miss some of their everyday rituals, like when she used to make coffee for her grandfather, or when he would lovingly tease Juliana.
Now, the family is making arrangements for his funeral.
"My mom's losing it," Scimone said. "My mom is not my mom [without him]"